New York mayor takes flak over blizzard chaos

Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended New York City`s efforts to clear snow.

New York: Criticism of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg snowballed as the top city official bore the brunt of the blame for the lacklustre response to one of the worst blizzards in decades.

While airports worked to clear a massive backlog of flights, frustration at the paralysis turned to anger as reports emerged of ambulances failing to reach critical patients, in one case leading a woman to lose her baby.

"Clearly, the response was unacceptable," speaker Christine Quinn told a special session of the city council, giving voice to hundreds of complaints from disgruntled New York residents.

"We`re hearing reports from all over of people not even having seen a plow by the afternoon of the day after. This is a level of lack of clean-up that I really can`t recall."

The mega-storm began on Sunday and lasted just over 24 hours, enough time to blanket much of the city and surrounding areas in up to 32 inches (80 centimetres) of snow.

"It is a bad situation," Bloomberg told a press conference, attempting an exercise in damage limitation after drawing fire for stubbornly insisting that the authorities had the situation completely under control.

"Nobody suggests that this is easy. Nobody suggests that this is pleasurable. But I can tell you this: we are doing everything that we can think of, working as hard as we can."

Bloomberg received a hammering from the New York tabloids for failing to empathise with snowed-in New Yorkers and acknowledge frustration at painfully slow efforts to clean up the city`s snow-clogged streets.

"Bloomy finally gets our drift," said the New York Post. "He woke up and smelled the catastrophe."

A political independent who has repeatedly denied any future presidential bid, Bloomberg was more contrite in a later press conference.

"We did not do as a good a job as we wanted to do or as the city has a right to expect," the mayor said.

All New York area airport runways were back open Wednesday, but services were still limited as airlines attempted to unjam the system after thousands of flight cancellations, mostly in the New York area, since Christmas Day.

Many felt they had earned a right to rage at John F Kennedy International Airport, where more than 1,000 passengers who flew in on long-haul international flights found themselves marooned on the New York tarmac for up to 11 hours.

An apologetic Cathay Pacific airline said the delays were due to a lack of available arrival gates at Kennedy.

Snow plows and salt spreaders struggled through Manhattan, battling through knee-high snow on many streets that severely hampered emergency responses.

In the borough of Brooklyn, a woman who suffered a stroke had to wait six hours for an ambulance, with bleeding in her brain far more advanced by the time help arrived, The New York Times reported.

In a tragedy for another Brooklyn family, a pregnant woman who went into labour on Monday morning waited over nine hours for an ambulance, which eventually arrived too late to save her baby.

Officials expect it will take several days for New York and its all-important transport hubs to be fully back on track following the sixth heaviest snowfall in the city`s history.

Dispirited passengers clogged airports, overnighting in brightly-lit terminals or lining up for hours in the hopes of changing dashed bookings. Many complained that they had phoned their airlines but nobody answered.

Bloomberg was not the only official getting pounded. New Jersey residents were left incredulous after the state`s governor Chris Christie skipped town and went on a Disney World vacation in Florida despite the impending storm.

A spokesman said Christie was briefed at all times while on vacation and that the state`s emergency services responded well to the storm, but the fact his lieutenant governor was also away forced New Jersey`s Senate president to fill the official void and tarnished Christie`s image even further.

His performance was left more in the shade when compared with the heroics of Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who waged a one-man Twitter war on the blizzard.

Ingeniously using the micro-blogging tool to respond personally to snowed-in residents, Booker answered many desperate pleas with personal house calls, shovel in hand.

"I`m on my way to Treamont Ave now to help dig your mom out," one tweet said, while news clips showed the rising Democratic Party star tirelessly clearing pavements, digging out vehicles and rescuing stricken citizens.

Bureau Report

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